[ Return to Index ] [ Read Prev Msg ] [ Read Next Msg ]



Posted By: cheryl moonen (email)
Date: 5/7/2018 at 22:47:57

Dubuque Daily Times, Wednesday, Nov 22, 1871, Dubuque, IA, Page: 2

Barbarians in the Midst of Civilizations,
Their Habits, Curious Customs,
Want, and Poverty – An Attempted
Missionary Enterprise, and What
Came of it.
Toledo, Iowa. Nov. 7th, Correspondent of the Milwaukee Sentential

Within two miles of the place I now write there is a lonely band of Indians, who still retain the old habits of their race, though living in the midst of, and in daily contact with, the stir and bustle of a populous county in the center of Iowa.

I have just seen these Indians collected together to receive their regular payment from the government (for what I never could learn) and shall set down a short description of them.

I said they are a remnant of people. More correctly they are the remnant of two tribes, the Sac and Foxes, and are made up of a few who once refused to engage in some of the wars of the famous Black Hawk: for which refusal they were contemptuously named Mus-quaw-kee – that is squaws or women. Some say the name means coward: but, to an Indian warrior, squaw and coward are not very different. When the Indian tribes of this region passed beyond the Missouri, these Musquawkees went along; but partly from the contempt in which they were held by other tribes on account of reputed cowardice, and partly from the traditional Indian attachment to the graves of their dead, they soon returned to their old lodges on the Iowa River, and neither the persuasions of the whites nor the assurance of the government that the annuity should stop if they did not betake themselves to the reservations, could induce them to roll up their scanty blankets and tents and depart. Here they remain in gloomy inactivity and even stupidity, like Powontonamo, once the eagle of the Mohawks, come to “lie down and die beneath the broad oak that shadowed the grave of Sunny-Eye.” Here they are still, and will probably continue, under the blight of ancestral barbarism, till dirt, nastiness and want will lay the last one stark and stiff along the margin of the river.

The Musquawkees now number about three hundred men, women and children. These children are reared in all the misery of the most thorough Indian customs. Tied on boards with thongs of leather or strips of bark, wrapped in huge blankets in hottest and coldest weather alike, transported in blankets thrown across the banks of ponies and dangling along bareheaded in sunshine and storms or carried like dead woodchucks on the backs of haggish looking squaws, and, at home rolling in all the glory of dirt among the multitude of dogs in their huts, they are on all accounts the most pitiable spectacle to be seen among the whole Musquawkee camp.

It is remarkable that these children seldom fret or cry. I once saw one of the mothers lean the board on which her child was tied against the outside of a store while she went to do some trading. In a few minutes a large dog, kept as a watch about the store, passed out in pursuit of a stranger car, struck the baby’s board in his hurry, and sent both rolling into the gutter. I picked up the unfortunate little fellow and replaced him in his leaning position against the wall; but he gave no sign of emotion than a heavy sign of relief at finding himself again with his head up and no bones broken.

The men are exceedingly lazy. Prehaphs it would be better to say they are exceedingly proud, and despise rather than dislike work. They delight to smoke, swim, and chant and lie in the shade. The women are the drudges of the camp. They cut the wood, build the huts, cultivate a few little patches of ground, and do the marketing. Just now I see a herd of squaws from my window. They are leading, driving and riding a dozen ponies loaded down with tents and children, blankets and meat, axes, hatchets, and indescribable sundries, wending their way to the banks of the Cedar River, whither the lazy lords of the camp have gone several days ago, riding unencumbered, in the blissful enjoyment of red paint and tobacco smoke. There they will hunt, fish, smoke beg and starve until spring.

It is impossible to describe the Musquawkee without mention of their ponies, for these bony brutes are about half of their all. An American horse would starve on the fare that they get. When grass is abundant they look passably well, but in winter they subsist entirely on the branches of tree and dry grass which they paw out from under the snow; for the Musquawkee raise no grain for feed, and never save any hay. If one of them wants money, he will sell his pony for a mere trifle; if he does not, he will not part with it for any reasonable compensation.

Generally speaking there is nothing peculiar about their mode of burial, but, for some reason not known to any of the whites, so far as I can learn, in a few instances they dispose of their dead in a manner almost to incredible for belief in a community accustomed to all the sacred rites of Christian burial. A noble warrior among them, having died, was placed on a large piece of bark, raised seventy feet high in an old elm tree, secured by strong thongs of leather, and left there for more than two years. A squaw was buried in a sitting posture, the lower part of the body covered in earth, the head and trunk erect, and, except for a lopping forward and sinking downward as the ground settled, the skeleton sat upright for nearly five years. One of the men, buried in the same manner, had his rifle placed at his shoulder, firmly clasped with both hands, and dismally aimed by the horrid hunter at blank vacancy, till nature dissolved the tendons of the arm and the weapon fell lengthwise on the grave. Sometimes they inter at the unusual depth of ten, and even eleven feet. At others the corpse is laid on the surface of the ground and covered with earth. The graves are stuck with sticks, and piled with poles, and little white flags flutter from staves set in the ground, while rags of various colors cover the branches of the overhanging trees. All in all, their burying ground so bespeaks a thorough degradation of soul and inbred superstition as to be totally terrible timid visitors.

Four years ago one of the men were returning to camp in the night. He had imbedded too freely on the fatal “fire-water,” which in this country has brought calamity upon so many of the Indian people, and the torch and tomahawks to so many pioneer cabins. Drowsiness overtook him, and he lay down. His body was found horribly mangled from having been run over by a passing train. During the day the Indians came down in solemn procession from the camp, collecting every fragment of the body and clothing, scraped up even the soil that had been dampened with his blood, carried them all away and buried them with the upmost care. Then his pony – a dismissal-looking little animal, which gave abundant proof of having a hard life of it – was led upon the grave and shot, its blood mingling with the fresh earth, so that its spirit might accompany that of its master to the “Happy Hunting Grounds,” which are the Musquawkees heaven.

Except that a few of them have learned to wear hats, their constant contact with men of civilized dress has not had the effect to change their savage preference in this particular. Leggins, moccasins, multifarious trinkets, shell, noes and earrings, red wampum, red feathers and paint, close-shaven heads, ugly pig-tails, and gorgeous top-knots, make up the glory and beauty of their toilets. In the manner of dress, however, the women are not nearly as extravagant as men. Their hair receives less attention, and their faces are mostly exempt from paint. They trim their skirts with curiously-wrought trimmings, wear shell bracelets, bead necklaces and large earrings. But in these trappings they constantly advertise the inferior position they are expected to occupy.

The Musquawkee, save in a single particular, are strictly honest; and, though they have but the slightest knowledge of numbers, they remember their accounts with surprising accuracy. When they buy anything from which they cannot pay, they must have the account written on a piece of paper for them. They cannot read it, of course, but they never fail to bring it with them when they come to settle, and to know just how much it represents. Their idea of business is just this: If Maw-nock-e-maw owes me $10, I write out his note for the amount, sign his name to it, and he makes his mark (X) myself. Then he keeps the note to remind him that he owes me. Without pocket, pocket-book, drawer or shelf in all the world, it’s an utter mystery how he does keep it; but as certainly as the day of payment comes, so certainly does he fish out, from some recess or fold of blanket, breechclout, or leggin’, the identical promise to pay, and hands over both it and the specified amount. He has no idea of interest. Interest is a product of civilization. Now that he has paid it, I must keep the note to remind me that he does not owe me. Should I afterwards present it to him for payment, the fact of it being in my possession would be to him conclusive evidence that it has been paid. Some may suppose that I ought to subtract still farther down from the statement regarding their honesty, when I say they are remarkably expert at games of chance, and play them for money at every opportunity; but they are totally ignorant of the morality involved in the act of obtaining money through the operation of chance. They regard it as a truly business transaction, in which, what they win, they have fairly earned, and vice versa. They, therefore, pay a lost wager punctually as any debt they owe.

None of the tribes can read or write. I once undertook to teach one of the young men who speaks a little English. After a few lessons he brought back his books and refused to take another lesson. I expressed surprise, and asked him to explain. His only reply was, “Musquawkee do not like white men. Old Injun no write.” This, of course, was final; for, when an Indians mind is made up, there is no power in arguments to change him. If the importance of teaching their children is urged upon them, they reply by asking whether the whites would like to adopt Musquawkee customs. Of course not. And why should they, then, adopt those of the whites? And so, with an indescribable positive shake of the head and shrug of the shoulders, they close the subject by informing you “Musquawkee no like school.”

They are generally fond of strong drink, and will sacrifice any comfort of convenience to obtain it; but a few of the older ones are total abstentious men. One of them, who estimates age at one hundred and fifteen years, has long given up the use of it, and his influence goes far with the younger ones. Their chief, Waw-au-won-e-ka, who is forty three years old, never tasted spirits. The second chief, the orator of the band, Waw-kee-mo, is 52 years old. He indulges in occasional fits of glorious drunkenness. Po-toc-to, the “Medicine Man,” brother of the head chief, is 50 years old. He seldom drinks, and his influence over the tribe is greater and better, perhaps, than that of any of his superiors, mainly from a steadiness and manliness of bearing in which he has in a degree far above any of the rest of the tribe.

They live entirely in tents and huts – wick-e-ups they call them. A piece of land recently bought for them and a house upon it, but they pitched their tents alongside, saying “White man house no good. Musquawkee like wick-e-up.” Aside from the annuity, hunting is their main dependence, and yields them a scanty substance. Upon nearly 500 acres of land owned by them, they do not produce grain enough to support them for more than one month out of the twelve. Their food is prepared in the most homely and untidy manner, and consists chiefly of meat. After expecting their ponies, which they reverence too much to eat, they are not particularly nice in their choice of animals for food. If a well fed dog finds his way to their camp, he had better send word home that he is engaged and can’t come back. He is destined to find his way, piecemeal, down the gullets of the hideous canine ghouls. This is the exception I made to their honesty - a transgression in no way particularly damaging to the interest of society.

The government keeps a local agent for them, who looks after their interest and pays them the government allowance per capita regularly every six months. About a year ago an effort was made to establish a mission among them. An organization was formed, officers elected, and a correspondence opened with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which correspondence developed the fact that the department did not consider the organization such a one as it could do its business through, but that it would continue to furnish its own agent as before, and give the society carte blanche to spread its benevolence upon the Musquawkee field, in such a manner and quantity as in its own wisdom should seem best. Now, even a Musquawkee’s arithmetic is competent to determine that if there were thirty members in the society, only one of them could draw an agent’s salary, should the government permit them to name that officer; and that if it would not, none of them could draw it. It would be unkind to say that such considerations as these had anything to do with the abandonment of the enterprise, but certain it is that the poor Indian is an untutored as before, while Mrs. Jellyby worries and frets about the precious souls along the sunny rivers of the South, under the coconut and breadfruit trees, mourns over the Borioboola Gha, and toils at propagating the Gospel in foreign parts.


Tama Biographies maintained by Ann Selvig.
WebBBS 4.33 Genealogy Modification Package by WebJourneymen

[ Return to Index ] [ Read Prev Msg ] [ Read Next Msg ]